American Anthropologist

Do Rocks Listen?

The Cultural Politics of Apprehending Australian Aboriginal Labor



    1. University of Chicago
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      ELIZABETH A. POVINELLI is Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL 60637.


This essay attempts to show the competing cultural frameworks involved in the (e)valuation of Aboriginal work in the context of the Dreaming and development, juxtaposing Western and Belyuen ways of understanding what happens when humans act in the natural environment and their economic and politico-jural consequences. To do so, it critically opposes political-economic assumptions about the alleged divide between human subject-agents, nonintentional animal appropriators, and objects, and between cultural belief and economic-ecological reality. In this way we can begin to apprehend Aboriginal labor without aiding and abetting the state on the dispossession of Aboriginal lands and delegitimization of Aboriginal beliefs.